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Diamond-Welch Aims to Improve Conditions for South Dakota Sexual Assault Victims through Research

Bridget Diamond-Welch standing outside near Old Main. Through a grant from the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, Bridget Diamond-Welch, Ph.D., will inventory South Dakota sexual assault kits to better understand sexual violence in the state.

Vermillion, S.D. – As part of the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, a three-year, $500,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Bridget Diamond-Welch, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of South Dakota, will inventory South Dakota’s sexual assault kits (SAKs) to gain a better understanding of sexual violence and vulnerable populations within the state.

While taking inventory of the SAKs, Diamond-Welch will help pursue justice from past cases and research how sexual assault cases move from the initial report to case dispensation.

“So many people in our state care deeply about helping victims of sexual assault, but sometimes we are hindered by a lack of information on what is going wrong with cases,” Diamond-Welch said. “This project will help us understand what happens between initial report and case dispensation. We will then use this information to create trainings for prosecutors on how to handle these cases.”

Diamond-Welch’s research is a result of her many years of experience as a rape and domestic violence advocate when she was on the faculty at Western Illinois University.

“I answered the 24-hour hotline and responded to calls from the hospital to sit with survivors through their SAKs,” said Diamond-Welch. “This occurs at the juncture between the medical field and the judicial system, making them complex. I saw firsthand many issues, which made me want to pursue research to address the problems.”

Other research being conducted by Diamond-Welch includes work with counterparts at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Their most recent publication, “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Propensity to Participate in the Commercialized Sex Market” will appear in Child Abuse & Neglect. From their research, they found that people who were abused, neglected or had other negative life events happen to them as children are more likely to participate in the commercial sex market.

Diamond-Welch said she is motivated to find real solutions to public health and criminal justice problems. Her research on sexual assault has been applied by practitioners of the state to inform changes in policy and legislation. Formerly an associate professor for the Criminal Justice Program, Diamond-Welch is now a part of the medical school’s Department of Family Medicine. Currently, she is assessing the effectiveness of telehealth sexual assault nurse examiners. As she does this work, Diamond-Welch will continue to provide evidence-based solutions to improve responses to victims of sexual assault.

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